August 26, 2009

The environmental impact of take-out food

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I've become more and more concerned with protecting the environment in the last few years. Those who work close with me would have noticed some changes in me during this time. I've gotten to the point of changing some of my consumption behavior in order to lessen the environmental impact.

For those of us living in Hong Kong, it's not unusual to have two meals a day (sometimes three!) as take-outs. If one is having some Chinese breakfast from chains such as Maxim's, Cafe de Coral or the like, this means something warm packed in a plastic or styrofoam box, along with a plastic fork or chopsticks all wrapped in a plastic bag. If you get an ice lemon tea, you'll be throwing away a paper cup, a plastic lid, a straw and a long-stemmed plastic spoon used to crush the lemon slices. We're already creating lots of plastic trash and it's not even 10am...

Lunch time comes and we may end up hitting the same places for hot food. Inevitably we end up taking back to our desks a lunch box packed in a styrofoam box. Depending on what one orders, the wastage may actually increase. For soup noodles, the vendor may actually separate the noodles and the soup and pack two separate containers instead. Lunch sets which include either a drink or Chinese soup also add to the container count. Hainanese chicken rice is the worst, as it involves 3 containers - one for the rice, chicken and soup respectively - in addition to the condiments/sauces.

Of course all of this comes with the usual disposable utensils and the ubiquitous plastic bag... I've been using my own utensils in the office for a few years now, and I always tell the food outlets not to give me their disposal utensils. Not only do I cut down on the amount of waste, it is also better for my body. You never know what kind of chemicals are used in the production of those disposable chopsticks, and it's scary to think about how much of that you are ingesting each time you use those chopsticks...

Over the last few months, I'd been meeting a lot of people at coffee shops around town, sometimes to the tune of 3-4 times a day. This could lead to a lot of paper or plastic cups thrown away, so I've been asking the baristas to serve the drinks in re-usable mugs or plastic cups. I also make sure I don't use any straws for my cold drinks.

Am I the greenest guy around? Hardly. But it's scary to think of how much waste we can generate in the course of an ordinary day without even realizing it. I'm doing my best to reduce waste and recycle, and I hope that others can join me in putting in a little extra effort to make our planet more sustainable for the future generations.

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